There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.
Pride and Prejudice tells the story of the Bennet family: five sisters, only two of which, Jane and Elizabeth, are described as having any sense, their nervous silly mother, and their ironic and somewhat disengaged father. The novel, a social satire, hinges on a something external- marriage, and something internal- how we make judgments about people. The major obstacle this family faces is that their estate is entailed away from the female line, meaning, none of the five daughters can inherit their home. This is the motivation for their mother being fixated on at least one of them marrying a rich man.
Elizabeth Bennet is the story’s heroine. She is not as beautiful as her older sister, Jane, but she is witty, sharp, and strong minded. Early in the novel, she meets Mr. Darcy, a very wealthy man who strikes everyone in their town as haughty, rude, and condescending. When he first meets Elizabeth, he is dismissive of her, mainly because she is of a lower social station than he. As the novel progresses, both Elizabeth and Darcy must confront their pride and their prejudice and learn what is involved in truly knowing a person.
There are many timeless questions addressed in this text. Part of the human experience is learning how to read the world around you, and to make decisions about relationships. Who is truthful, who is deceitful? Who is good, who is dangerous? Who is supportive, who is threatening? These decisions, in modern society, are also key when making decisions about love and marriage. In our lives, we all must confront our pride and our prejudice at some point and learn to see people for who they are. Key questions this text address are:
Are first impressions accurate?
What does prejudice mean in this novel? How is it similar to or different from our use of the word today?
What qualities do you associate with a hero?
What qualities do you associate with a heroine?
In what ways is Elizabeth Bennet a heroine?
Have you ever felt like your family or where you come from clouded/influenced the way people see/judge you?
Has someone else’s family or background influenced the way you saw/judged them?
It would be difficult to excerpt Pride and Prejudice, but chapters 1-10 establish many of the themes that carry through the novel.
What does Austen mean when she writes, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”? What does the word “want” mean here? Why begin the novel this way? Is this still true today?
Do a character sketch of Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, Darcy, Caroline Bingley, and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. What kind of people are they?
Compare Darcy’s attitude to Elizabeth when he first meets her at the Meryton House to his attitude when they spend days together at Netherfield while Jane is ill.
Much of the thematic and character development in Austen’s novels comes through conversation. Identify a conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth that reveals something about their feelings or characters. Explain how the conversation does this.
Netherfield is in the country; Mr. Bingley and his company also have a residence in London. How is life in the country and city contrasted in this novel?
If you were Elizabeth, would you be embarrassed by your family? Why or why not?
An interesting pairing might be Shakespeare’s Othello. The play also hinges on marriage and misreadings of events and people. Parallels may be drawn between Othello’s relationship with Iago and Darcy’s relationship with Wickham.
1995 BBC miniseries
Bridget Jones’ Diary
2005 Pride and Prejudice film